In an interaction with The Sunday Guardian, Uzma Naheed, head of the south-Asian chapter of IQRA, the International Educational Foundation and the great-granddaughter of Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nananotvi, founder of Darul Uloom, Deoband talked about the exploitation of Muslim women in India due to the practice of Talaq-e-biddah, a legal divorce which can be obtained by Muslim men by uttering talaq thrice in one sitting. Naheed explained, “Talaq is allowed in Islam but Muslims are strongly advised to use this right judiciously by the Quran. Prophet Mohammad (PBuH) said, “Among lawful things, divorce is the most hated by Allah.”
Contrary to this, husbands reportedly divorced their wives for the most stupefying reasons. “Not being a good cook is no reason to divorce a wife. Such reasons do not hold any ground in Sharia (Muslim law). It is indeed unfair to women. To put an end to such cases where women faced victimisation, around 100 years ago Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi had tried to come up with a law that could safeguard the rights of women and discourage the wrongful use of Talaq-e-biddah. So, it cannot be said that the community was ignorant to the misuse of Talaq-e-biddah. But it is a shame that we could not implement a substantive solution” When asked why, Naheed said: “Illiteracy in our community and lack of knowledge among Muslim women about their haqooq (rights) in Islam lead our women to accept the subjugation as natural”.
Naheed has been working for the empowerment of Muslim women in India for over 25 years now. She said, “in the time of the second caliph Hazrat Umar (RA), the punishment to divorce a masoom (innocent) was 100 lashes. But the laws that punished men for breaking the Sharia are no more enforceable. As a result, the culprits go unpunished. In view of this anomaly, the judiciary interpreted the Quran and the Islamic laws with incomplete knowledge and some judgments were passed in the last few years which were against the spirit of the Sharia. The fault here does not lie with Islamic laws but with the partial implementation of the same. This is a multi-dimensional social setback that Muslims in India have suffered.”
Naheed also pointed out the lack of various Islamic institutions in the contemporary times that used to facilitate enforcement of Islamic laws. “We do not have quwwat-e-nafiza (power of implementation) and Nizam-e-adliya (Islamic judicial system) that used to enforce the Sharia in the correct light. We don’t have bayt-al-mal (financial institutions established in Islamic states to collect taxes). Bayt-al-mal used to be responsible to provide for widows, orphans and divorcees who had no other source of financial and social security”, she said.
“Even though we have many Darul-qaza (Islamic courts) in the country, women are hardly a part of them. This makes asking for khula (a legal separation initiated by the wife) difficult for a wife who is unable to explain her troubles to the mufti. Even though Fasque-Nikah allows a mufti to exercise his independent authority to dissolve a marriage if he finds a woman struggling in her matrimonial life, it can be done only with the approval of the wife,” Naheed said.
She added: “The situation was different in the past. The repercussions of an unjust talaq were suffered more by men. Prophet Mohammad (PBuH) had condemned the injustice and warned men of their un-Islamic approach. Women were not helpless in those times if a man decided to end the marriage against the Sharia.”
Talking about the way forward and finding a solution to the issue, she emphasised on the form of talaq used and said,”A rightful implementation of Talaq-e-Ahsan is urgently required.” Talaq-e-ahsan requires the word talaq to be said thrice in due intervals over a period of three months. The husband and wife can still decide to settle the matter and continue their matrimonial life together even after the first two talaq have already been said but if there were no efforts made for a reconciliation after the first two talaq, then the third talaq may or may not be uttered, the marriage is anyway considered null and void by the end of three months. Contrary to Talaq-e-ahsan, Talaq-e-biddah allows a man to divorce his wife by saying talaq three times in one sitting.
“Divorce is a big decision. It affects whole families and not just two people. Therefore, it must not be done in a moment of uncontrolled anger,” said Naheed.
“One way to address the problem is to introduce reforms but reforms alone cannot help fight subjugation. We need some punitive action that can be taken against the erring people or at least there should be some form of deterrent available,” she said.
With this view to make unfounded divorce punishable, Naheed said: “The only option available to us is to draft a conditional marriage contract, a new Nikahnama, in which some conditions could be stipulated from the girl’s side to protect her in untoward circumstances like a second marriage leading to abandoning of the first wife and her children, non-payment of maintenance, domestic violence, mental torture, cruelty etc.”
“The Nikahnama is drafted in accordance with the Sharia and is a significant endeavor that can actually help improve the current status of our people,” Naheed added.